Imagine this: You hit a great shot approach to a Par 4 hole, but the golf gods somehow manage to make it leave the putting surface.
Then, you’re left with a debate that so many of us have faced countless times.
If you’re like most players, I’m sure you’re thinking… “Should I putt this?” Or, should I chip it?
It’s a great question because the wrong choice may leave you with a bogey (or worse). And there’s nothing worse than hitting a fairway, hitting a good approach shot, but walking away with anything more than par.
It happens all the time to players, regardless of how well they strike it.
More than half of all shots are made on or near the green. These shots are key to shooting lower scores. Your flat stick could be your secret weapon.
In this post, we’ll review when you should be putting when you’re off the green and when you should take out a different club. Continue reading to learn how you can save strokes while shooting consistently lower scores.
Chip Shot when Off the Green vs. Putting Stroke
You can see all sorts of clever shots from PGA Tour golfers if you watch a lot of it on TV. Sometimes it’s a chip, other times it’s a flop, and sometimes it’s even a bump and run with a hybrid or 3-wood.
Then, when we get to the course and we’re off the green, we try to do the same thing. When in reality, we’re not a PGA Tour pro (or even close) and find ourselves stubbing shots or thinning them over the green.
This can lead to frustration, embarrassment, anger, and even worse, a loss of control on the next shot. Because you should be putting for par, instead you’re trying to save bogey.
When in reality, the answer was probably for you to putt the golf ball… even though it’s not on the dance floor.
There are a number of factors to consider when figuring out the right club, so let’s review each scenario. Let’s break down when you should putt, when you should chip, and what shots yield the best chances to get the ball up and down.
Short Game Rule: Putt as Much as Possible
This is the general rule of thumb when playing golf. If you can putt it then putt it. If you can’t putt it, then chip it. And if you can’t chip it, then you should pitch it.
One of the best tips I’ve ever been told is to putt whenever possible!
Is there a theme to your play? Keep the ball low so it can roll on the ground like an putt. Don’t take a high follow through on a chip shot and get it high in the air.
Instead of trying to carry the ball to the hole, aim to land the shot on the green.
Because a lot more can go wrong the higher off the ground it gets and it’s not the high percentage shot choice.
It’s not hard to see that even the best players can putt a lot of balls on the green. While it’s not as sexy as using a wedge, it is usually more effective.
Yes, they can chip or pitch the ball (or in some instances like Phil Mickelson, flop it). But they’re still playing the shot with the highest percentage and that’s putting the golf ball.
Think about it, if you hit a “bad” putt, you’re still typically going to be within 5 or 6 feet of the hole. Golfers often try to hit the miracle shot, but many putters are too slow to hit it close.
If the best players in the world choose to putter rather than pitching or chipping, then you should. Let’s review the scenarios to give you the best chance to save par.
How to putt from Off the Green Fringe or Low Cut Fairway Grass
If your ball lies on the edge or in tightly mown fairway grass you can putt it!
Setup doesn’t change – not the ball position, grip, or any other aspect. You can practice a few more strokes and ensure that your through swing is adequate.
Only thing you should think about is how hard it was.
Since you’re not on the short grass, you need to hit it harder to get through the longer grass. Otherwise, continue your normal routine, read your putt, and be confident in your shot.
In other instances, putting isn’t the right choice. Sometimes you will need to use a bump n’ run chip shot, pitch, or hybrid putting style shot.
These are some scenarios that you will encounter on the golf course. Which shot should you attempt?
Another important factor in deciding the right shot to hit is where the ball lies. If your ball is on the fringe aka short grass, then you’re fine. Even public courses with “hairier” fringes are usually fine to opt for the putter.
If your ball is in the long grass (aka the main cut of rough), then I would not recommend putting it in. If you’re someone who shoots 100+, then you can probably still putt from the light rough and get it closer than a chip. Be prepared for the ball’s bounce as it travels to the hole.
However, if you’re more advanced, I would suggest chipping or using a hybrid bump and run shot instead. If it’s in super thick rough, avoid the putter entirely as it’ll be nearly impossible to make good contact. To deal with thick stuff, use the wedge.
Keep the ball low to ground, and you’ll save stroke after stroke throughout the round.
Type of grass
The type of grass is also a major factor in deciding which shot you should hit.
For example, I was watching Tiger’s Hero tournament in December 2021 and saw a lot of players putt from way off the green. They did this because the type of grass in the Bahamas is very “sticky”, meaning it can catch the bottom of the wedge and make following through nearly impossible.
This sticky grass led to some really bad chip shots (especially if you’re hitting into the grain). Sam Burns is perhaps the most famous example. He made a costly three-bogey that ended his momentum. After several failed chips and much embarrassment, he finally putted it and got it onto the green.
Bermuda has grain as its main grass type. When grain is a factor, it can really affect your chip shots and why it’s a good idea to putt instead of trying to chip it.
Click here to find out more about the different types.
Distance to the Hole
When deciding the best play, any golfer should also consider the distance to the hole. Is it 20 feet, or 100 feet?
Imagine that your ball is just off a green and you have 20 foot to the hole. It’s not a big deal to putt. But if you have 100 feet and you’re off the green, it might take a few putts to get there. Instead, you might prefer to put it on the green so it rolls like a putt.
Always consider the pin position and the carry distance when walking up to the hole and evaluating your shot.
Speed of the Greens
Another factor is the speed at which the greens turn. Some courses have fast greens, while others have slow greens.
If the greens are fast, putting is often the best option. As long as you have the right lie, putting can be a good choice. Most golfers can’t create enough spin with chip shots and they watch the ball roll well past the hole (or off the green).
Slower greens are easier to stop the ball than faster greens.
Uphill or Downhill
While speed is important for putting the ball in the hole, it’s also important to consider the slope of the green. If you have an uphill approach, you’ll need to hit a putt harder or opt to use a wedge and lift the ball on the green.
Conversely, if it’s a downhill shot, putting is the play for almost any golfer.
Trouble near the Target
When deciding on the right play, be sure to evaluate any difficulties.
For instance, if you’re thinking about chipping or pitching, but water is just off the green, go with a putter. I would hate for you to thin it and throw a ball into the drink from the edge of the dance floor.
It will not only make your friends laugh but it will also make you shiver. Don’t try to be a hero when thick grass, bunkers, or water is in play around the hole.
Final thoughts on Choosing the Right Shot When You Missed the Putting Surface
These tips should help any golfer achieve greater success at short range.
Don’t make golf harder than it already is by trying a miraculous chip shot or high flop. Instead, take the “boring” route and watch your scores drop almost immediately.
Remember, you already know how to putt and not many changes when you’re off the dance floor. Only thing you will need to adjust is your speed, and a slightly longer stroke.
Always make sure you know what shot you want to perform. The worst thing when you stand over a golf ball is to have indecision and don’t have a good sense of what you’re trying to do.
The easier it is to play the shot, the better you will be able to judge the lie and shot ahead.